In 2020, the Riverside Board of Trustees voted to approve a new ordinance, pushed by its police chief at the time, meant to give the village some legal leverage when it came to addressing properties where police were called repeatedly and which had become neighborhood nuisances.
There are thankfully few properties in the village that meet such a description, but no municipality is immune from a nuisance popping up now and again. Many times, such nuisances are temporary.
But longtime, chronic nuisance properties do exist and can range from simply unsightly and annoying to a threat to the safety of those living at the property and those around them.
Where that line gets drawn is up to interpretation and a public body seeking extraordinary remedies to private property issues is quite an escalation over the usual local ordinance citation for code violations or minor disorderly conduct offenses.
It’s going to be interesting to see just how the courts will respond to the lawsuit filed last week by Riverside against the owner of a Millbridge Road property, declaring the home there a chronic nuisance and seeking more or less immediate abatement of that nuisance.
The lawsuit asks the judge to force code, health-and-safety and fire-safety compliance within a matter of days or have the homeowner risk being told to vacate the premises for up to a year in order to fix the problems.
While that is extraordinary, the lawsuit did not come out of the blue. Police have visited the property more than 150 times in the past two years and dozens of times more prior to that, responding to disturbances – some of them violent — calls to remove unwanted people who have taken up residence there, loud noise complaints, animal problems, etc.
This summer in response to an avalanche of police calls to the home over a two-month period, the village reportedly obtained permission from the owner to inspect the home and wrote up a list of property maintenance violations, many of which remain unfixed despite the threat of further village action.
Many might say that the village’s action is long overdue and that there ought to be stiff consequences for property owners who allow their homes to become neighborhood nuisances.
We’ll see what the court has to say about all this. Often, such property conditions are the result of complicated personal situations – from mental and physical health issues to mobility to simply what most Americans view as the sanctity of their private property rights. The government can’t just go in and kick you out of your home, or at least it’s not supposed to work that way.
Of course, living in a civilized community ought to be a two-way street, so we hope that there is in this case a remedy short of the nuclear option spelled out in the lawsuit. It’s a test case, that’s for certain.